Aston Martin 2019
launch-review

Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato review

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One of the most beautiful cars in the world, reborn.
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While the emotional appeal of the 'Continuation' DB4 GT Zagato gets close to overwhelming, the rational case is shaky at best. The second new-old recreation to be produced by Aston’s Works Division is being sold as a pair with the forthcoming DBS Superleggera Zagato, the price for both being £6m before taxes.

Even if the DB4 Zagato only constitutes half of that total, which would seem an underestimate given the care and attention lavished on it, it still makes it twice as pricey as the very similar Continuation DB4 GT that Aston sold last year. Bet you wish you’d bought one of those now, don’t you?

The original DB4 GT Zagato arrived in 1960 as a slimmed-down, faster evolution of the DB4 GT, Zagato’s lightened bodywork saving 50kg. When new it was reckoned to be the fastest road-legal car in the world, with a top speed of 248km/h.

The Continuation car is a near-perfect replica, built by Aston’s heritage division at the company’s former HQ in Newport Pagnell using the same materials and techniques as the original. That means hand-formed panels, a carburettor-fed six-cylinder engine and period-correct Dunlop Racing tyres.

Just 19 are being built, with several in different stages of construction when I visit ahead of driving the prototype. According to Works boss Paul Spires, each requires 4500 hours of labour.

The only changes are safety related; like the Continuation DB4 GT the Zagato is being delivered to customers ready for historic motorsport. That means a roll cage – bolted in, so it can be removed for anyone seeking total originality – plus fire extinguisher and battery isolator systems.

There’s also an FIA-grade fuel bag to protect in the event of a big crash, plus modern carbon fibre bucket seats and race harnesses.

Aston is very keen that owners use their cars rather than parking them in climate controlled storage, hence the invitation to experience the first one at Silverstone.

Original DB4 Zagatos are mostly too valuable to be risked on track, former works car 2VEV sold for £10.1m at auction last year, but the Continuation models are intended to go racing. Nor do they need to protect their originality, with Spires saying a large part of the appeal to buyers is the ability to specify cars the way they want one without worrying about removing value-adding patina.

Spires says at least one will be painted to match its DBS Superleggera Zagato sister, and both left- and right-hand drive versions will be available.

My drive takes place at Silverstone, although on the baby 1.1-mile Stowe Circuit that Aston has taken an exclusive lease on for testing rather than the more challenging full layout where I got to sample the DB4 GT Continuation last year.

This means I can push harder, but there is still plenty of opportunity to get things expensively wrong.

The Zagato’s interior is effectively identical to that of the DB4 GT it’s based on: same chrome bezelled instruments, wooden-rimmed steering wheel and a tall gear lever for the four-speed dog ring transmission.

The changes are all beneath the surface, with a brawnier 4.7-litre engine producing what I’m told is a very conservative 283kW, compared to 257kW from the regular GT’s 4.2-litre engine.

As with the original, the Continuation Zagato also gets telescopic dampers all-round and a Watt’s linkage to better locate the live rear axle under harder loadings.

It’s certainly quick, rear tyres scrabbling for traction leaving Stowe’s short pit lane as I misjudged the clutch’s biting point. The engine bogs down under gentle use, but revs make it happy – and reveal a compelling rasp through the triple carbs as the tacho needle sweeps towards the 6000rpm redline.

The big challenge is the gearbox, with the four-speed dog ring box lacking conventional synchros and needing both firm, accurate upshifts and a rev-matching blip of throttle to smooth out downward changes.

It’s a knack that takes a while to arrive, my first laps made to the accompaniment of expensive graunching noises loud enough to get me wincing inside my borrowed helmet.

Last year’s DB4 GT drive was on a cold, wet track that made it a challenge to get the throttle fully open. With the Zagato the late English summer is playing ball, with the surface dry and warm enough to allow the car to be pushed far harder.

Grip levels are still modest by modern standards; even braking points that would be cautious in a fast road car prove to be marginal for getting the Zagato slowed enough for the tighter turns.

There’s lots of lateral movement under hard braking and, after a couple of laps, the smell of roasting brake pads is strong enough in the cabin to send me back to the pits to make sure everything is okay.

“That’s just what brakes were like back then,” says Spires, sending me back out. Like every other part of the experience, they are as authentic as possible.

The Dunlop tyres give modest adhesion, even when properly warmed up, which turns the car into a dynamic adventure. The unassisted steering is low geared but delivers clear feedback, most of which is about the limited grip at the front axle.

Understeer is easily created, but also easily corrected. Winding off lock and adding more throttle tips the handling balance the other way, edging the back of the car out. Then it’s rinse and repeat: longer corners require lots of inputs and corrections to stay close to a chosen line, but the experience is an addictive one.

Of course, I’m experiencing the Zagato in the friendliest conditions – a warm, empty racetrack. In the wet, or surrounded by a pack of competing cars, the excitement level would go up by several notches.

Officially the Zagato can only be used on circuits with the idea being for it to compete in the historic championships which allow reproduction cars, or alternatively just at the sort of exclusive track days where millionaires compete to have the coolest toy.

But Aston also admits that some owners will find loopholes to allow them to use their cars on road, certainly in parts of the world with less stringent standards.

Wherever you drive it, and however many cars you have in your collection, the DB4 GT Zagato is still going to feel entirely special.

The basics

  • Engine: 4670cc, six-cylinder
  • Transmission: 4-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • Power: 283kW @ 6000rpm
  • Torque (Nm): 488 @ 5000rpm
  • 0-100km/h: TBC
  • Top speed: 248km/h
  • Weight: 1,230kg
  • MPG: TBC
  • CO2: TBC
  • Price: £6m (plus taxes) (with DBS Superleggera Zagato)
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